- Alternative Character Interpretation:
- Some versions have ... additional subtext on Prospero and Ariel's relationship.
- Or Prospero and Miranda. A psychoanalytical (Freudian) reading would tell us that Prospero, Ariel and Caliban are in fact the same person and Prospero follows his inner desire (id, that is, Caliban) and goes to rape Miranda, stopping himself at the last moment. There's loads of "proof" of this throughout the play but as any English teacher will tell you there's loads of proof for whatever reading you choose, so ... your mileage may vary.
- Ditto with Miranda and Caliban. Some versions imply that Caliban didn't rape Miranda, but just got caught having a torrid affair with her.
- Caliban- nasty brute or Noble Savage? His appearance has been much debated with interpretations ranging from some kind of ape man to a fish person, to a normal, non-white human.
- Prior to the events shown in the play, was Prospero a wise ruler who studied magic on the side, or was he just a deluded old man who cared more about magic than about his family and responsibilities? Is his antisocial personality the result of his righteous anger at everyone who wronged him, a byproduct of his years of isolation on the island, or has he been that way ever since he took up magic?
- Antonio. Is he a self-serving bastard who only cares about power, or is he a pragmatic politician who understands the business of ruling far more than his Absent-Minded Professor brother?
- What, exactly, Ariel is varies from interpretation to interpretation. He's certainly not human, but his actual species is unclear.
- Doing a Gender Flip on Prospero, as done in Julie Taymor's 2010 film, changes the character quite a bit. For one thing, when Prospera agrees to return to Milan for Miranda's sake, she's giving up a great deal more freedom than her male counterpart, making it a more poignant sacrifice.
- Ensemble Dark Horse: Caliban has grown in popularity and sympathy with scholars over the centuries, partly because the character's apparent subtext (as a vengeful victim of colonization who wants to take back his homeland) has only grown more timely. Next to Othello, he's probably the second most coveted Shakespearean role among Black actors.
- Epileptic Trees: There are as many interpretations of the play as there are critics. Who and what Caliban represents takes up half the debates.
- Magnificent Bastard: Prospero is the exiled Duke of Milan and a skilled sorcerer who spots his usurping brother Antonio. Conjuring a storm to shipwreck them, Prospero uses his enslaved spirit Ariel to torment Antonio and his allies, thwarting schemes by the drunk Trinculo, Stefano and the wicked Caliban to take control of his island. Prospero also manipulates his daughter and the King of Naples' son into falling in love, all while ensuring Antonio succumbs to remorse before forgiving him and reassuming control of his own Dukedom.
- Moment of Awesome: Act 5, Scene 1.
- All of Prospero's speeches.
- Older Than They Think: This is the source of the phrases "nature versus nurture" and "thin air".
- Values Dissonance:
- In modern times, the play seems like an early example of fantasy fiction and stands in contrast to Shakespeare's famously realistic settings. As a matter of fact, in the Elizabethan era, it was hardly an issue for audiences to suspend their disbelief in order to accept a wizard as a protagonist because many people did indeed believe in magic. Even in Shakespeare's more "realistic" plays, the plot of Hamlet turns on the presence of a ghost, the climax of Romeo and Juliet involves Juliet drinking a faux-death potion, the opening scene of King Lear draws on fairy-tale motifs... contemporary stage realism was never Shakespeare's aim.
- The character of Caliban, who has been interpreted more sympathetically in Postcolonial analyses than he was in Shakespeare's day.
- Of course, increased support for victims of sexual assault has made sympathy for an attempted rapist an example of Values Dissonance in itself.
- Viewer Gender Confusion: Ariel. In the text, he's male, but he's also a fairy, and most modern English speakers think Ariel sounds like a girl's name. He is most likely supposed to be androgynous, and is as often played female as male.
- Ariel isn't necessarily a fairy. The name "Ariel" could mean "airy," as in the element in which Ariel lives, but it is also Biblical Hebrew and means "Lion of God" (it's a common boys' name in Israel, where one of the country's greatest soldiers and more controversial Prime Ministers bore the name). Unlike Puck, it's not entirely clear WHAT Ariel is (ditto Caliban).
- The only characters who refer to Ariel as a fairy are Trinculo and Stephano. It appears that he's a Nature Spirit of some sort, possibly an air elemental. That said, every form that he takes in the play is unambiguously female: a water-nymph, a harpy and the goddess Ceres.
YMMV / The Tempest